By Chad Simon
Designing Mini Pinewood Hot Rods
Builders Race Their Creations on the Dragstrip to Raise Money for SEMA Cares Charities
Jesse Greening, Greening Auto Co.
James Crosby, James Crosby Designs
Doug Dwyer, American Sales & Marketing
Brent VanDervort, Fatman Fabrications
Glenn See, Garaj Mahal
After three years of dominance by Street Vizions, this year featured a new winner—Jesse Greening of Greening Auto Co. Theresa Contreras of L&G Enterprises was the runner-up, followed by James Crosby of Ride Tech.
“I always like making fun things for charity, especially this car,” Greening said. “One of our goals this year was to win the race, along with building a good-looking car. We wanted show and go! We were very excited to be asked to be a part of the challenge again this year.”
Participating builders included American Sales & Marketing, James Crosby Designs, Garaj Mahal, Fatman Fabrications, Greening Auto Co., Hudson’s Rod Shop, Kaucher Kustoms, L&G Enterprises, Mo’ Muscle Cars, Motofeet and Reisinger Custom Rebuilding.
During the HRIA reception at the SEMA Show, the Best Engineered and Best in Show cars were determined by vote and—along with the race winner (Greening Auto Co.)—were auctioned live. A silent auction was held for the rest of the Pinewood Builder’s cars. Proceeds benefit the SEMA Cares charities.
“The Builders’ Challenge is another way the HRIA tries to boost awareness and involvement in the hot-rod industry, in this case by reaching out to both up-and-coming hot-rod builders and existing industry heroes to construct some really cool Pinewood cars,” said BJ Elmore, HRIA select committee member and head of the Pinewood task force. “Really, who wouldn’t want to own a piece of hand-crafted hot-rod artwork constructed by your favorite builder?”
In addition to supporting the charities, the builders showcase their creations throughout the year to children interested in cars, providing an opportunity to expose the hot-rod hobby and custom-car industry to the next generation of car builders.
“Thanks to all the builders who poured their passion into these cars,” said Dave Williams of Rampage Products, who served as the race organizer and trackside umpire. “They truly are remarkable works of art. Like Jesse’s work with fullsize rods, he built a way-cool car, and it was an extra kick to see our first lady builder, Theresa Contreras, racing her Pinewood entry alongside Jesse for a place on the podium as well.”
Contreras declared, “I was so excited about racing in the Pinewood Builder’s Race, but most of all, it’s a great group of people raising awareness and money for these kids and having a great time doing it.”
The race came to fruition at the 2009 SEMA Show, when HRIA Chairman Rick Love of Vintage Air and HRIA members Eric Saltrick of Steele Rubber Products and the late John Menzler of COMP Cams decided to walk the Show floor and ask every well-known hot-rod builder to participate.
“We consider the Builder’s Challenge to be one of the signature programs for the HRIA,” Love said. “It’s another opportunity for everyone in the industry to see the level of creativity and craftsmanship these builders are turning out. The actual races have been very close and have generated a huge amount of enthusiasm. The crowning achievement of the program is the fact that the proceeds from the cars’ auction go directly to the SEMA Cares charities. Most of these cars have more than 100 hours in design and build time, and it is just another example of the lengths our industry goes to give back and share.”
The idea behind the first Challenge was simply to see what top-notch hot-rod builders could do with a block of wood, and they have pushed the boundaries every year. The rules are simple and subject to interpretation. Each pinewood builder is given four months to complete a car, with no design limitations imposed except that the car has to fit the track’s dimensions and no propulsion systems are allowed.
Each builder must use at least one piece of the pinewood block that SEMA provides. Over the years, builders have not only used the wood for their cars but also aluminum, fiberglass and chrome. They have fabricated custom wheels, suspensions and chassis parts in miniature formats.
Keith Kaucher, Kaucher Kustoms
Blake Meaux, Mo’ Muscle Cars
Fourth-year contender Keith Kaucher of Kaucher Kustoms constructed his car’s body from surfboard foam and fiberglass and used the pinewood provided by SEMA for the chassis. He said Saltrick approached him in 2010 to compete in the 2011 Pinewood Builder’s Challenge.
“I designed a car called the Ignitor IV, and it won Best Engineered that year,” Kaucher said. “Since then, I’ve participated every year. This year’s car, the Kozmic Ray, was my best car so far, although it wasn’t built for racing. It was 100% a show car and a tribute to the show-rod builders from the early ’60s, including Roth, Jefferies, Cushenberry and Starbird. I invite other designers in the industry to participate; it’s for a great cause, and you’ll meet so many good people in the manufacturing end of the industry to boot.”